The Darkness of the Womb

Relic, Chapter 1

Winter, early January, in the year of our Lord 960

It is early afternoon in Sudleigh and there is feasting in Lord Leofric’s timber hall. Father Loryn, the new deacon at the local church, leads everyone in grace, taking a moment to chastise the butcher, Vercingetorix, for attempting to start before the blessing is finished.

As feasting begins, a lone monk staggers into the timber hall, calling for assistance. He speaks with an accent, though it is not immediately recognizable. A few rise to aid him crowd around him as he explains that he was traveling from Wealdminster to Caerloyw on assignment for Pope John XII, and he camped outside of Stanhurst. He was beset by bandits in the night, and his relics were stolen. He wishes to regain them, but he will require assistance. Lord Leofric pledges to help him, and asks who will go. Aethelwulf, Father Loryn, Vercingetorix, and Morwenna all volunteer. He instructs them to travel with this monk to Stanhurst and help recover his lost goods. Everyone agrees to ready themselves and leave immediately.

The group sets out on the forested path east, toward Stanhurst. A few miles outside of town, they pass an oxcart and proceed to hail it. While inquiring about their wares, predominantly skins and food, Father Loryn suspects that something is amiss. Listening carefully, he hears a light sigh or rustle from inside the cart. As the cart passes, Father Loryn alerts Aethelwulf to this fact, and Morwenna indicates that she similarly heard something. The group agrees and calls for the cart to halt. The merchants respond by pulling daggers and advancing. The battle is swift and bloody, with Aethelwulf and Vercingetorix making short work of the bandits. Only one manages to flee, having been shot in the shoulder with an arrow by Vercingetorix. Of the others, one dies when first aid is incorrectly administered, but the other two live, though they are unconscious. The group discovers that the oxcart contains skins, food, and some tools while also concealing weapons and a couple of unconscious humans in cages, ostensibly to be used as slaves. On the slavers themselves, they note that their daggers were covered in some greyish, foul-smelling goo, and that they have vials on their belts filled with the same. Morwenna cannot identify it, but takes some for later. The group decides to wait while Aethelwulf rides his horse back to Sudleigh to ask for assistance. Lord Leofric sends men with horses who will transport the oxcart, the slavers, and the prisoners to Sudleigh to determine what is happening. Aethelwulf, Father Loryn, Vercingetorix, and Morwenna are to continue accompanying the monk to Stanhurst.

Aethelwulf returns with two of Lord Leofric’s men, and the group continues to Stanhurst. They arrive in Stanhurst after dark, and find a rocky, muddy hill with a few scattered huts, scattered farmland, and a single, small timber hall atop the hill. Making their way to the timber hall, they enter and announce themselves to Lord Cuthbert, explaining their purpose there. Ever-suspicious, Father Loryn has reason to suspect that Lord Cuthbert is lying when he says he knows nothing of the monk’s relics, but cannot prove his suspicions. Everybody eats while Father Loryn asks if Lord Cuthbert should like to confess, and he and Cuthbert walk outside. Father Loryn signals to Aethelwulf to keep watch so that he is not attacked once the two leave.

Once outside, Father Loryn finds Cuthbert reluctant to talk, but finally motivates him to loosen his tongue. He tearfully explains that the villagers are the bandits, but that they have no choice. The land was tough and the crops were failing. When the Little People offered to make their crops grow in exchange for trinkets and slaves, the town agreed. Cuthbert does not know where they are, though, as the blacksmith Caedmon primarily deals with them now — he can ward them with his iron.

Father Loryn lets Lord Cuthbert go before gathering the others to explain what he learned. They all decide to pay Caedmon a visit. Knocking on his door, he answers and reluctantly lets them inside, asking what they want. They press him about the Little People, and he denies everything. Father Loryn then presses him to sell the iron trinkets hanging above the doorways and the iron pendant around his neck on the grounds that if there is no cult, then these things should have no significance. Caedmon lets them go for 10 deniers, and Father Loryn implores him to accompany the group so that he may minister to the town. Aethelwulf, however, just says to let him go, and the group decides to go to sleep, taking residence in the timber hall for the night. Father Loryn and Vercingetorix decide to hold vigil for an hour or two, and Aethelwulf instructs Vercingetorix to awaken him in a couple of hours.

Both hear rustling in the woods as the dark deepens, and Father Loryn awakens Aethelwulf while Vercingetorix goes to investigate. Vercingetorix tracks the source to Caedmon, walking through the woods. He silently follows, and Aethelwulf manages to catch up. They follow him to a thicket at the bottom of the hill, where he shouts wordlessly. The two wait, and then they begin to hear movement. They begin to return to Stanhurst when they hear a loud, quick thundering behind them. They are greeted by a diminutive man with reptilian features brandishing a tube with a curved end for holding. Despite the initial shock, they dispatch the thing before they start to flee. Vercingetorix goes ahead as Aethelwulf hears rustling in the woods, and goes to investigate. He pushes aside the brush to find another, larger reptilian thing. It screams and gestures, and he suddenly feels his skin peel, char, and blacken as if he were caught in a fire. Barely hanging onto consciousness, he dispatches the thing. He catches up with Vercingetorix, and the two carry one of the reptilian corpses as well as its tube to the timber hall.

Awakening everyone, they reveal the corpse, surprising Lord Cuthbert with the realization that the Little People bleed and can be killed. Morwenna sees to Aethelwulf, though she can do little for his wounds at the time. The monk recognizes the tube as one of the relics, a weapon of some sort, and is pleased to regain it; he incidentally seems to know how to use the weapon. Father Loryn and Vercingetorix rally the townsfolk to dispatch the Little People, and some accompany them. After testing the noxious goo that Morwenna retrieved earlier on a dog and determining it to be some form of knock-out potion, Vercingetorix smears some on his blades. Father Loryn, Vercingetorix, Morwenna, the monk, and a contingent of townsfolk travel down the hill to find a cave hidden in the brush. A few townsfolk are sent first, but then run out, screaming. Then, the things start to rush out, but the first few are easily dispatched by Vercingetorix’s arrows. The rest fall quickly as the assembled party attacks them.

The townsfolk stay outside while Father Loryn, Vercingetorix, Morwenna, and the monk enter the cave. They find that it widens to a larger burrow, filled with remains and offal. A ledge bears a strange, black, L-shaped object of unknown material, and a two-part glowing tablet. The monk recognizes these things as the relics, and takes them. When the others ask, he says that he cannot quite explain from where these relics come, only that they are power, divine artifacts, and that they belong to the Pope. Additionally, he offers to pay, granting 250 silver deniers to each person. He then leaves. The group quickly decides that Morwenna will remain to look after Aethelwulf, and Father Loryn and Vercingetorix will stealthily follow the monk.

The two follow the monk well into the night, following him most of the way to Sudleigh. A few miles away, however, he takes a turn into the woods and walks into a cavern. Father Loryn makes his presence known, and follows the monk into the cave. The monk then explains that he is not a monk and these are not relics. Instead, they come from another place entirely, one that lies on the other side of the cave wall. He is about to walk through when Father Loryn moves to stop him with his mace, but Vercingetorix, still following, grazes his arm with an arrow. The poison upon the tip causes him to lose consciousness instantly. Vercingetorix then steps forward, and the “monk” exclaims something in an unfamiliar language and jumps through the wall, simply disappearing through it as if it were not there. Vercingetorix then pokes at it before sticking his arm through, prompting him to be sucked through the other side.

Finding himself in the same cave, he shrugs and begins to walk out before finding his surroundings to be extremely strange. A clear barrier is before him, bearing hinges and a box as if it is some form of door. A white room with tables and suchlike lies beyond. He sees the “monk” and a few others on the other side. The “monk” steps to the barrier and manipulates it somehow, such that his voice emanates from the box on the barrier itself. He explains that this is the future, but that Vercingetorix should just go home anyway, because there is nothing for him here and no one will believe him. After some discussion, Vercingetorix retrieves his arrow and returns through the portal through whence he came.

Finding the unconscious Father Loryn still on the other side, he gathers him to return to Sudleigh.

The next day, he sends an oxcart to retrieve Morwenna and the grievously injured Aethelwulf. He explains a few things regarding what happened to Lord Leofric, but says to wait until everyone is gathered.

The following day, after Father Loryn has rested, and Aethelwulf and Morwenna have returned, Vercingetorix reveals the corpse of the Little Person, while also explaining some of what happened regarding the town. He then explains about the portal in the cave, and leads Lord Leofric and a contingent of men there. After investigating the portal, Lord Leofric says he will get men to seal the cave, as this is something which should not exist. The group then returns to Sudleigh.

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A Trip to Market, Chapter 1

Winter, early January, in the year of our Lord 960

While Aethelwulf recuperates and Father Loryn is performing errands around town, Lord Leofric summons Morwenna and Vercingetorix, as well as another one of his warriors, Godwine. He explains the current situation to Godwine, regarding the business in Stanhurst, and proceeds to explain that he wishes to get to the bottom of the slaving ring happening. The captured bandits from Stanhurst know little about their kidnappers, but two of the slavers from the attack on the caravan were captured alive and are currently imprisoned in one of the huts in town. Lord Leofric wants them questioned.

Godwine, Morwenna, and Vercingetorix go to the hut and find the two battered men chained to the floor. When they initially seem reluctant to talk, Vercingetorix moves to stomp on the man’s testicles, instead overshooting and kicking him in the stomach on the way down. The man coughs blood, doubles over in pain, and is still. Vercingetorix then turns menacingly on the other, who immediately explains that he does not know the name of his contact. They simply make a drop on the edge of Chipping Mossbury with a masked man in a dark cloak. He unloads the caged slaves, and they get paid. Trades are made once a month, but he assumes that his is not the only slave caravan operating in the area. He then asks if he can be released. Morwenna says that is not their place to determine, but they will ask Lord Leofric.

Returning to Lord Leofric, they explain what they learned, and he sends them to Chipping Mossbury to investigate. Morwenna also notes that the man asked if he could be released, and Lord Leofric says he will take care of it.

Godwine, Morwenna, and Vercingetorix then assemble themselves for the journey. On foot, they start towards Chipping Mossbury. Night approaches swiftly, and as they walk in the gloom, they hear a noise in the woods. Vercingetorix peers into the darkness and finds a wild horse, grazing. He steps forward, but it bolts away as he offers in an apple. The group then continues.

As they reach the town, they are stopped by the guardsmen, who ask their business. Upon explaining that they are from Sudleigh and have come to experience the market, the guardsmen allow them inside and direct them to the inn.

Upon finding the inn, they buy rooms for the evening. Godwine attempts unsuccessfully to flirt with the comely servinglady, and everyone retires for the evening.

The next morning, after breakfast, the group goes to the market to investigate. They first find an apothecary and ask him about the potion they recovered from the slavers. He indicates that he cannot identify it immediately, though if they let him retrieve a sample, they can come around later. He also sells Godwine a love potion when he asks. Godwine immediately leaves to return to the inn in an attempt to use his new potion.

Vercingetorix spots the slaver who escaped from the caravan attack a few days ago. He quietly starts to follow him. He notes as he purchases a rod-like object from a foreign merchant, then as he wanders through town before chatting up a young lady. The two then circuit around back to the inn, where he gets a room.

Godwine, having unsuccessfully attempted to purchase a drink for a lady with the potion in it, shrugs and drinks it himself. He then notes Vercingetorix as he enters, and follows him upstairs as he listens at the slaver’s door. Not determining anything, Vercingetorix returns to his room, where he sits with the door open, waiting in case the slaver leaves. Godwine stations himself at the bottom of the stairs.

The woman leaves first, followed by the slaver. As he passes Vercingetorix, he attempts to strike the man with an arrow. It misses, and instead strikes Godwine, bouncing off his armor. The slaver notices the attack, though, and dashes down the stairs. The second arrow misses, and Godwine tries to tackle him. He runs past, dashing into the street.

A chaotic chase ensues as Godwine and Vercingetorix attempt to subdue the slaver. However, the chaos is stopped by armed guardsmen. They ask what is happening, and Vercingetorix tries to explain the whole slavery ring. When the guard seems nonchalant, he indicates that the man in question is not a thief and a slaver, but a witch. The guard, convinced of the sincerity of the claim, takes the man to haul him before Bishop Malachi, the lord of Chipping Mossbury.

Morwenna, who has been with the apothecary this whole time, hears some commotion in time to see the slaver being led by two guardsmen toward the cathedral in town, along with the murmurs of the crowd. She then sees Godwine and Vercingetorix, and asks if they had something to do with it. Vercingetorix explains what happened. After having to explain the situation to the apothecary, Godwine and Vercingetorix then go to visit Bishop Malachi.

After being allowed entry into the cathedral and making their introductions, Godwine and Vercingetorix explain that this man is implicated in a slaving ring whereupon victims are sacrificed to the Devil. The Bishop indicates that these are serious claims, and when they explain that they have the testimony of victims and a sample of the poison used to drug the sacrifices, the Bishop tells them to assemble their evidence and return tomorrow.

Upon returning to the apothecary’s shop, the group discusses their options, and Godwine decides to return to Sudleigh and bring the witnesses to Chipping Mossbury. While he’s away, Morwenna continues talking to the apothecary while Vercingetorix looks around the city to see if he can find the woman who accompanied the slaver earlier.

After a little bit, the apothecary finally says that he cannot identify it at all. It has to be made with some unknown alchemy. He returns the vial to her, and she returns to the inn.

As she approaches the inn, she encounters a small terrier and a ragged beggar outside. He holds out a bowl and she gives a single denier. Thinking about it, she then asks if he has seen anything out of the ordinary, specifically relating to a local slaving ring. After managing to niggle five more deniers out of her, he explains that he has actually seen the caravans enter the city at night, pass to the edge of town, and unload their cages with humans inside to a man with a mask. She thanks him and returns to her room.

Not having found the woman, Vercingetorix returns to the inn, and proceeds to ask the beggar outside if he has seen anything strange in town. After niggling three deniers out of him, the beggar explains that he has already encountered Vercingetorix’s friend, and that he can add the information that the cages are taken to the center of town. After talking with Vercingetorix, he introduces himself as Aelfraed, and offers to buy him a drink.

Once Morwenna and Vercingetorix regroup, they realize that if the guards let these wagons into town, they must be aware of the slave trade. Thus, it is impossible to know who is involved with the slaving ring, and they very well might be bringing the witnesses to be killed. They gather their things and leave.

On the path, they encounter Godwine, returning with the witnesses. After explaining the situation, they all return to Sudleigh to report their findings to Lord Leofric. After some discussion, Lord Leofric suggests that killing them outright would be an exceedingly poor idea; if that happens, then he can gather his men, as well as men from King’s Bradmere and Stanhurst, and declare war on Chipping Mossbury. Agreeing with this, the group decides to return to Chipping Mossbury to present their evidence to Bishop Malachi.

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A Trip to Market, Chapter 2

Winter, early January, in the year of our Lord 960

While Godwine, Morwenna, and Vercingetorix are discussing these matters with Lord Leofric, Aethelwulf, still injured from his run-in with the Little People of Stanhurst, enters the timber hall. After informing him of all that has transpired, he definitively says that they should go to Chipping Mossbury tomorrow with the evidence.

The next morning, the group assembles, and makes it way to Chipping Mossbury without incident. They arrive around midday, arriving at Bishop Malachi’s cathedral to present the testimony of witnesses, the vial of reagent, and the tesimony of Aethelwulf, who says that his wounds were caused by the slaver in question. Bishop Malachi tells them to go to the inn for lunch while he makes deliberations. When they return, he notes that they seem to know the most about this, and so he charges them with discovering the slaving ring. When Aethelwulf asks, he says that he can provide payment, and that the deed would also shine favorably on Lord Leofric. When Aethelwulf notes that one of the guards, a fellow by the name of Acwellen, seems somewhat smug about this, and when he asks, the guard simply states that he might prefer this to occur in-house. Aethelwulf responds by enlisting him to aid them. He then passes judgment on the slaver, saying that as a devil-worshipper, a tax-dodger, and a secret slaver, he is to be sentenced to death by beheading the following day.

Aethelwulf, Godwine, Morwenna, and Vercingetorix then decide to wait until the next slave caravan comes. First, they ask Bishop Malachi to grant them living space in Chipping Mossbury, and he allows them to stay at the inn for free. Then, they start their preparations.

In their off-time, Godwine takes to attempting — successfully, this time — to bed some of the serving women at the inn, while Morwenna takes to studying with Putnam, the potion-maker at the market. Vercingetorix takes to his regimen of vigilance, while Aethelwulf purchases two dogs and trains them to recognize the poison the slavers carry and bark if they smell it. Morwenna keeps treating him for his wounds.

Once preparations are made, the group starts watching the entrances into the city. Aethelwulf and Acwellen take the north gate, while Godwine and Vercingetorix take the south gate, sometimes accompanied by Morwenna. Each guard post has a dog accompanying.

A couple of weeks pass uneventfully in this fashion, with the night’s guard duty. Finally, late one night, the dog at the south post starts barking as a cart approaches. Godwine and Vercingetorix stop him, while Morwenna watches. Vercingetorix takes the dog and starts to investigate, while the merchant driving the cart asks why the guard has changed. Morwenna slips away to inform Aethelwulf. Eventually, the driver decides that the new guards do not actually work for Bishop Malachi, and they attack. Vercingetorix is quickly hit with a poisoned dagger, and loses consciousness. Godwine, however, fares much better, attacking and decapitating one of the slavers. By the time Aethelwulf, Morwenna, and the guard Acwellen arrive, Godwine has the slavers on the run. Aethelwulf orders the dogs to attack, and though one of the slavers is killed, the other two are captured alive for questioning.

The group checks the cart, finding caged slaves underneath the pelts and other supplies, and takes the whole assembly to Bishop Malachi. After he awakens, they quickly deliberate what to do when Morwenna remembers that they know where the slavers meet their contact in Chipping Mossbury. Leaving the slaves and unconscious slavers behind, the group disguises themselves and takes the cart to meet him.

Upon arriving at the edge of town, they see a man in black robes wearing a white mask with red markings. He draws his sword as they approach, and after speaking to them, calls forth three of the town’s guardsmen. He then orders them to kill the intruders.

As combat is joined, the mysterious masked figure tries to run as the guards cover his escape. Aethelwulf orders the dogs to take him down, but the guardsmen make short work of the hounds. While Aethelwulf and Godwine fight, Morwenna runs back to the cathedral to sound the alarm. The masked figure escapes, and though Aethelwulf and Godwine hold their own, the fight seems to be going against them when they hear Morwenna’s shouts. The three guardsmen start to run.

Aethelwulf, now heavily wounded, takes the opportunity to rest while the rest of the guard arrives. Aethelwulf gives descriptions and directions while the guardmen go in pursuit. Aethelwulf and Godwine then take horses from the cart and similarly follow. They come across one of the renegade guardsmen, and manage to knock him down, binding him and returning with him to the cathedral.

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A Trip to Market, Chapter 3

Winter, early February, in the year of our Lord 960

Having returned with the captured guard, Aethelwulf, Godwine, and Morwenna issue their report before retiring for the night. Before retiring, Aethelwulf ensures that Vercingetorix’s unconscious body is moved to his room at the inn.

The following morning, everyone awakens in their rooms and begins to go about their business. Morwenna goes to speak with Putnam, the potion-maker. Vercingetorix goes into the woods to hunt deer. Godwine decides to get drunk at the inn. Aethelwulf speaks to Bishop Malachi so that he may interrogate the imprisoned guardsman.

Finding that the man’s name is Tolucan, the guardsman is initially reluctant to speak and even indicates that this slave rings is more widespread than they expect. However, when Aethelwulf promises that he will not be executed if he speaks, he indicates that Leofwine is the man they seek. Bishop Malachi says that Leofwine is one of the organizers for the market in town, and though he is inclined not to believe that it is the case, he says that Leofwine could be anywhere in the market square, but that he is probably most commonly found in the building of Enosh the Jew. Aethelwulf asks for two guardsmen to accompany and proceeds to the market square.

He finds Morwenna, speaking to Putnam, and Vercingetorix, selling deer meat in the market square. Gathering them up, he decides to find Godwine before asking around the merchant’s square. After asking around, they determine he is probably at Enosh’s moneychanging business.

Before leaving to find Leofwine, they encounter Faran, Lord Leofric’s sergeant. He indicates that Lord Leofric sent him to make sure everyone was all right, considering the nature of their investigation, and says he will join them in their investigation.

On the way to speak with Enosh, some of the assembled group notice something in a side alley — what looks like a body thrown in some refuse, surrounded by a spreading pool of scarlet. They investigate to find a man with his throat slit — a man who fits the description of Leofwine. Aethelwulf manages to find footprints, but decides to go to Enosh before following them.

Entering Enosh’s building, they find him to be a stooped old man with a burly, well-armed man watching the place. He seems genuinely surprised when they say Leofwine is dead, and he is truly shocked when he sees the body. Ruling him out as a suspect, they explain that he was apparently into some shady dealings regarding slavery, and ask if anybody would have wanted him killed. Enosh says he doesn’t know, though if he is into strange dealings, it is impossible to say. He also indicates that Leofwine has dealings with everybody in the market, so it is difficult to say who may be the most likely suspect. The group proceeds by making a report to Bishop Malachi and asking the guards to follow the trails they found. Then, the group decides to look at Leofwine’s house.

After Aethelwulf kicks down the door, they look around. Faran and Vercingetorix find a hidden cubby containing the mask they saw on the slavemaster the previous night, as well as a seaf of papers bearing departure and return dates, as well as several names; some of these belong to the slavers they previously captured. Still somewhat intoxicated, Godwine briefly tries the mask before being reminded that he ought not to wear it.

After making a report of their findings to Bishop Malachi, the group hears from the two guards. The first says that the prints led back to Enosh’s shop. The second says the other set of prints led into the woods. Armed with this information, the group decides to follow the footprints into the woods.

After an hour of walking, they hear some sounds of struggle ahead. Aethelwulf and Vercingetorix sneak ahead to find a small clearing containing the body of a fallen man, a city guard from Chipping Mossbury, whose face has been bashed beyond recognition. Surrounding him are six man-things — humanoid creatures covered in coarse, slightly phosphorescent, blue hair. They wield clubs and squat around the fallen man, grunting and eating of his flesh. Vercingetorix looses an arrow that misses, sticking into the ground nearby the things. They immediately turn and rush Aethelwulf and Vercingetorix, who proceed to run. However, they fall upon Vercingetorix, prompting Aethelwulf to shout and join the fray. Though one of them manages to hit Vercingetorix with its club, he is merely bruised and continues fighting. As Faran, Godwine, and Morwenna join the battle, the creatures fan out slightly. Vercingetorix falls back to loose his arrows upon them, while the others move into melee. After a difficult battle, the group prevails, though not without injuries — one of the creatures grievously wounds Faran before it is felled, and Aethelwulf, Godwine, and Vercingetorix all receive minor injuries.

Aethelwulf searches the site, and finds a dagger on the guardsman that appears as though it may have been recently used. A campsite, presumably his own, sits nearby. Before leaving, they decide to decapitate one of the beasts as proof upon their return.

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